Characters Part 1: Helping Us Understand Ourselves and Others

People who read fiction often talk about how connected they feel to a certain character, how they experienced the character’s joy and pain, or how sad they were when the story ended.

The Bible is not meant to be read as a work of fiction: it is historical and spiritual… and it is not necessarily written in the narrative form to which we are accustomed (even the parts that are narrative). Though it is the treasured Word of God, I admit that it is often hard for me to really relate to the “characters,” because few biblical accounts are so in-depth that we can get to know them well.

I am thankful for books like Lynn Austin’s Restoration Chronicles, which puts flesh and bone into Biblical figures like Ezra and Nehemiah, yet remain faithful to the Word of God.

If readers feel connected to the characters they read about, take a minute to think about how deep that experience must run for the authors. My Schmidts have become a part of my daily life. Every one of my characters carries a piece of me, of my own experience, of a loved one, or of a loved one’s experience. Often, of course, the drama in my character’s lives is heightened just for the simple fact of telling a moving story. Nevertheless, my heart breaks with the knowledge that there are people in the world for which the most tragic stories are reality.

A few months ago, Dr. David Jeremiah gave a message on the love of God which included a retelling of the biblical story of Hosea. As I listened to Dr. Jeremiah’s, I felt myself standing in the middle of my latest WIP. My books aren’t Biblical retellings, but if you’ve read The Prodigal Sons, you know that Hosea is referenced in Emmy’s decision whether or not to marry Jakob:

Gazing down at [his hands], she remembered the years she’d spent watching his long, slim fingers dance across the keyboard like leaves carried on the wind. Now, although clean and perfectly kept, they bore invisible stains of blood. How many innocents would die by these hands? Hosea had been told by God to marry a prostitute. Now she was about to marry a murderer.

The Prodigal Sons
Jake Schmidt: Former church musician, composer and genius who struggles to free himself from bullying to eventually rise to become one of the elite. Deeply in love with his childhood sweetheart Emmy, who has vowed to love him no matter what.
Will those vows withstand the pressure of politics, passion and heritage?

However, as the plot from The Prodigal Sons continues in Book 3, there is another story that wrenches my heart more than Jake and Emmy’s, if that is possible. This is where my mind and heart went as I began to be wrecked by the love of God. How much He loves this young man who has counted his own life to be of such little value.

Christian Richter: Jake’s former best friend and Emmy’s future confidant. Behind his polished, confident exterior, he hides sensitivity, gentleness and a broken heart. He’s a disillusioned member of the Nazi SA, loves military strategy and dreams of being a real soldier someday yet struggles to free himself from a tangled mess of bad relationships and trafficking.
Is your heart breaking yet?

It’s not about whether Christian is fictional or real, because I know that there is someone out there somewhere to whom his circumstances and struggles will speak. Even if his circumstances don’t match up perfectly, and clearly the timeline doesn’t, the beliefs he has about himself will echo someone’s.

(This is why I always pray that my books get into the right hands. I’m a small-time, self-published author and I am truly thankful for every person who reads and enjoys my books! But one of my goals for my writing is that someone, who desperately needs to, will hear this message: you are not alone, and there is hope.)

There is no better way to learn than through experience, and nowhere is that more important than in the experience of God’s love. When we put ourselves inside a character’s heart and head and then suddenly that love is expressed to them, somehow, it reaches out and touches us. It gives us a hunger for more.

Author Becca Whitham shared the quote above with a writer’s group that I belong to, and I nabbed it because I think it fits perfectly with today’s topic. Fiction isn’t reality, but it can definitely echo reality and speak truth into our hearts. It puts flesh and bone on things that are otherwise hard for us to wrap our minds and hearts around. If we aren’t struggling personally, it may put perspective on the struggles of someone we love. It may help us have that empathy of which Neil Gaiman speaks.

That’s why I’m so willing to let my characters become as unconventional as necessary, even if they veer sharply from what I used to believe was acceptable. My three most troubled boys, Ernst, Jake and Christian, are the ones I love the most (so far), because through their stories God has taught me so much about His love.

Stay tuned to my social media, because next week I have the opportunity to share an “interview” with Jake, his own story in his own words. I think you’re going to find it interesting!

I’ve also finished drafting my first Christmas novella, a book that deals with the heavy subject matter of Christian’s life while helping him find joy in a Christmas spent with someone who has come to love him very dearly. If you are just waiting for Christmas in July, sign up at the link below and you will receive my upcoming Christmas novella on your Kindle June 30th!

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